Oct 6, 2010

Last Cake, Next Cake

I don't think there has been another week where almost everyone who baked the cake had the same problem. In Mendy's words, we all had "caramel issues."

Just see if this doesn't sound like a broken record:
First came Faithy: "The caramel stayed at the bottom of the ramekins and didn't quite dissolve after 40mins in the waterbath..and i had to microwave it to soften so i can pour it out. But the moment it is poured on top of the pineapple, the caramel hardens really HARD like toffee candy (and at times like spun sugar like strings)! How to eat?"
And Vicki, who said: "The caramel didn't quite cooperate with the puds. It stuck to the bottom of the ramekins and was rock hard. As I pulled the pineapple and sugar out, the caramel pulled into long ribbons! It also turned itself into spun sugar without benefit of being swung across the kitchen with a lopped off whisk." But she made the best of the situation: "It made me feel very creative and quite avant-garde, turning out hip and modern sugar garnish."
Katya was poetic: "The caramel stayed in a hard, thick layer in the pan, as all the rest flipped semi-neatly out. I went after it with a spoon and it cascaded down onto the pudding in taffy-like waves."
And Monica was just mad: "I took them out and inverted one unto a serving plate. Let’s call this move, a “test run”. And my screams were heard around the world. Mold to plate, nothing. Ran the metal spatula once more between the sides and tried again. Felt it come out of the mold. Looked at the mold and what do I find? Caramel sauce - not.melted! Half of the pineapples stuck to the UN-MELTED caramel sauce."
Well, you get the picture.
Poor Julie! Not only did she have difficult caramel, but--much worse--she ended up at the emergency room after absent-mindedly testing the temperature of the caramel with her finger. Looking on the bright side (as she did herself), she "ended up with a pretty nice dessert." And she finally got a chance to test her pineapple corer, which she now enthusiastically recommends.
But did people like the pineapple caramel bread pudding? By and large, they did. I liked how Nancy B. described her niece's reaction: "Younger niece (who'd been looking ahead at this recipe and thought she wouldn't like it at all) tried a small bite, and pronounced it as not having much of a flavor. A few minutes later, as the rest of us praised the flavor combination, she took another bite from her father's serving. Another 5 minutes or so and she asked me to get her a full cake. I suspect none of us would have picked this recipe out of the book as something we'd really like, but there certainly were no bites of cake left on the plates at the tasting."
Jennifer's description was more succinct: "pretty damn delicious."

But the real star of this show was the brioche. Shandy said she "loved everything about the brioche." And Andrea said she would "definitely make the bread again." She also noted that it "helped [her] get over [her] fear of working with yeast breads."
In fact, so popular was the brioche that two of our bakers--Raymond and Sarah--made the brioche only and skipped the final step of the cake.
Not that the brioche--delicious as it was--lacked its own complications. Jenn found that out when she put the loaf in the oven and "noticed that there's not much head space between the top of the brioche and the top of the oven. I didn't think that much of it because hey, there's still some room. Well, next thing you know, about 10 minutes later, I smell something burning, opened the oven and saw that the top of the brioche is stuck on the oven ceiling. On another circumstances I would have said: "hey Rose's brioche has nice oven spring!" This is not one of those circumstances. What I said was: "Oh shit!" I frantically grabbed my oven mitts, pulled the brioche out, pulled the baking stone out, put the cheapo baking stone in (it's shorter), put the brioche back in the oven, checked the head room (there are plenty of space!), went to the liquor cabinet and treat myself to a little sip of Grand Marnier."

As marvelous as everyone's final pudding cakes looked, even with caramel mishaps, this week's FEATURED BAKER award must go to Kristina. She definitely deserves notice for her savoir-faire in unmolding the cakes: "When it came time to unmold, I was expecting a bit of a mess, really. Much to my surprise, they turned out perfectly." Folks, Kristina holds the secret to the caramel! And not only did her pudding cakes turn out perfectly, but she also did a marathon blog about 1) the pudding cakes, 2) the tomato-chocolate surprise cake, and 3) the lemon meringue cake.

On to next week, which is also from the "Baby Cakes" chapter (how did that happen?). It's Rose's take on the modern classic, the lava cake. Realizing that the success of this dessert depends totally on taking it out of the oven at the exact right time, because otherwise it's just chocolate cake, Rose decided to substitute ganache for the underdone center that gives the cake its molten lava quality. For these babies, Rose specifies silicone cupcake or brioche molds. The brioche cakes pictured in the book are attractive, but I have the cupcake pans, so that's what it's going to be for me.

You will be happy to learn that we're back to the Q&E list for the following week: the Many-Splendored Quick Bread, which, with its oatmeal, banana, zucchini, and carrots, you could even call healthy.

One last thing: this week is the first anniversary of the onset of this project. In honor of the group's birthday, Raymond suggested that we conduct a poll to figure out the bakers' favorite cakes. Vote for up to five of your very favorite cakes--just email your answers to me, at mlwolf2@comcast.net. I'll tally the votes and announce the top five vote-getters next week. Polls close on Wednesday, October 13, at 9:00 AM CST. Don't forget to vote!


anitsirK said...

Too bad I still haven't managed to find time to post the pictures for evidence. :) As I said, it's been a hectic couple of weeks. We finally have counters in the kitchen, though, as of yesterday! I promise pictures soon. :)

Monica said...

Congratulations Kristina.. and hats off - 3 cakes? wow, I could barely do one.

Vicki said...

Congratulations Kristina! But how did you get the caramel to bubble up with the butter?

anitsirK said...

Well, you know how in the recipes for the other caramels we've made (including the one for the apple charlotte), Rose says "it will bubble furiously" when you add the milk/other liquid? Basically, when I added the butter, mine did that. I assume this is a result of the water in the butter instantly boiling when it hits the hot sugar. The thing is, it crystallized almost immediately, meaning it was more of a "scrape the sugar into the ramekins" thing rather than "pour the caramel".

I feel like if I'd kept stirring and heated it a bit more, it might have gone back to a nice amber liquid caramel like Evil Cake Lady's did.

Mendy, I didn't do all three cakes in one weekend. :) The Chocolate tomato cake was way back on the weekend the apple charlotte was scheduled for, the pineapple doo-dads were a week ago, and the meringue cake was this past one. I'm just lazy about blogging. ;)

Jenn said...

Congratulations Kristina!

Nice write up Marie. Yes it's funny that everyone has caramel issues. It makes me feel better about it though.

Katya said...

I'm thankful to be leaving babycakes behind for a bit. My prejudice is certainly irrational, but it's real.

Mendy said...


Ooh fun, we get to choose our favorites!

Great job Kristina. Well done!

anitsirK said...

Whoops! Sorry, Monica! I don't know how I read your comment and managed to think it was Mendy. How embarrassing!

To make up for it, I've finally posted pictures.

faithy said...

Congrats Kristina!

We baked together for a year already?!?! How time flies! I'm ok with anything actually..so all of you can pick your fave while i just follow along..lol!

Julie said...

Marie and gang, I think the reason Kristina's caramel didn't stick was because she spooned a little extra juice over the caramel/pineapple. In my experience, when caramel doesn't fully dissolve it is because there wasn't enough liquid from the fruit to dissolve it during baking. (This happens to me when I shortchange the fruit on an upsidedown cake, so that there are bare spots, not covered by fruit- the caramel always remains hard and sticks where the bare spots are.)

Julie said...

After checking Evil Cake Lady's blog, I'm guessing that her caramel (mostly) didn't stick because her cake was in the pan and in the oven for longer than the others, so the caramel had more time to dissolve in the liquid from the pineapple.

I'm wondering if this recipe may work better with the optional, make-ahead directions to store the cakes in their ramekins, then re-heat in the oven for half an hour before unmolding. That would give plenty of extra time and heat for the caramel to dissolve in the pineapple juices.

anitsirK said...

Julie, that's basically what I ended up doing, so I think you're probably right. I baked them once the first night, but by the time they were done, it was too late to eat them, so I re-baked them the next night.

evil cake lady said...

congrats, kristina!

maybe the re-heating (longer cooking time) really was the culprit.

Monica said...

Julie and Kristina...

Got to disagree, since I did the same thing. After baking them the first time, I could not eat them that day, since it was late (I did unmold one for "testing" purposes, which was a disaster) the next day, I baked them again (based on the warming them up tip in the book) and made sure the water was boiling before I place them in the oven, and what I got? Stuck caramel... I'm totally convince that there was a step missing in there somewhere.

Can you tell I'm still mad at it?

NancyB said...

I'm with Monica--I also kept mine at least overnight (and some were reheated in a water bath and eaten as much as 5 days later), and the caramel was still a hard disk. The extra liquid theory is possible, but I'm in the camp of 'something's wrong with the recipe' when so many of us had the same problem.

Vicki said...

Is Rose going to offer any insight and adjustments? The caramel was a great learning experience in finicky sugar chemistry.